Renowned short-story writer George Saunders’ first full-length novel ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ is named winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
The 58-year-old Texas-born New York based author is the second American author to win the prize in its 49-year history and interestingly, the second consecutive too.
The plot of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ revolves around a single night in the life of Abraham Lincoln, an actual moment in history, when the body of his 11-year-old son was laid to rest in a Washington cemetery in 1862. The Man Booker Prize website reads, ‘Strangely and brilliantly, Saunders activates this graveyard with the spirits of its dead.’ On the other hand, The Independent described the novel as ‘completely beguiling’, and praised Saunders for concocting a ‘narrative like no other: a magical, mystery tour of the bardo – the “intermediate” or transitional state between one’s death and one’s next birth, according to Tibetan Buddhism.’ Meanwhile, the Guardian wrote that, ‘the short story master’s first novel is a tale of great formal daring…[it] stands head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction, showing a writer who is expanding his universe outwards, and who clearly has many more pleasures to offer his readers.’
Lola, Baroness Young, 2017 Chair of judges, comments: ‘The form and style of this utterly original novel, reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative. This tale of the haunting and haunted souls in the afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son paradoxically creates a vivid and lively evocation of the characters that populate this other world. Lincoln in the Bardo is both rooted in, and plays with history, and explores the meaning and experience of empathy.’
It is reported that Saunders had told the TIME magazine that he didn’t really want to write about Lincoln, ‘but was so captivated by this story I’d heard years ago about him entering his son’s crypt. I thought of the book as a way of trying to instil the same reaction I’d had all those years ago.’
• Saunders is the second American author to win the coveted British prize. The first being last year’s winner Paul Beatty.
• ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ is published by Bloomsbury, making it the third consecutive year the prize has been won by an independent publisher, following Oneworld Publications’ success in 2015 with Marlon James and 2016 with Paul Beatty.
• Bloomsbury has won the prize for the fourth time. Its previous wins were: Howard Jacobson (2010), Margaret Atwood (2000) and Michael Ondaatje (1992).
• Lola, Baroness Young was joined on the 2017 judging panel by the literary critic, Lila Azam Zanganeh; the Man Booker Prize shortlisted novelist, Sarah Hall; the artist, Tom Phillips CBE RA; and the travel writer and novelist, Colin Thubron CBE.
• The judges considered 144 submissions for this year’s prize.
• George Saunders was presented with a trophy from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque by Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group.
• Saunders also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.
• Royal Mail is again issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to millions of items of stamped mail nationwide on Wednesday 18 October and Friday 20 October 2017. It will say ‘Congratulations to George Saunders, winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize’.
It is interesting to note that Saunders’ win comes in the month that the 1989 Booker Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro was named as this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. Ishiguro follows in the footsteps of other Booker Prize-recognised authors such as V. S. Naipaul, Nadine Gordimer, William Golding, J. M. Coetzee and Doris Lessing who have gone on to win the Nobel and critics are swayed by the ‘promise’ of Saunders’ future literary career.